girl power reigns supreme at the london shows

Between Gareth Pugh, Simone Rocha and Sibling, the London shows wasted no time taking the new wave of feminism to even more powerful heights.

by Anders Christian Madsen
22 February 2015, 10:05am

gareth pugh fall/winter 15

Ever since Karl Lagerfeld cemented the neo-feminist waves washing over this current moment in time with his women's rights protest at last season's Chanel show, the feminist spirit keeps hovering over anything you see in fashion. So powerful is this definitive crusade against chauvinism that it transcends the trend machine, and has become an ongoing revolution of its own. Gareth Pugh is turning ten this year and made his return to London Fashion Week with a dramatic show at the V&A based on the idea of fellowship.

"It was about sacrificing yourself for the good of a group," he said backstage, explaining the recurring St George's Cross motif that appeared in the makeup, and the roars of the Sunderland Football Club audience that had been sampled into his soundtrack. But shown on the backs of warrior women, his black ball gowns, leather armor and gladiator helmets - not to mention the huge red flag carried in the last exit - seemed more gender-specific as far as the idea of fellowship went.

Joan of Arc is the eternal icon for uncompromising feminism, and for a 15th century martyr the heroine's contemporary influence is extraordinary. (Madonna, for instance, just released a song about her.) Joan, if we may assume a first-name basis, could have been the muse for Pugh's collection, and for his portrayal of a kind of feminism that seemed as roaring as those football cheers. "It's the idea of going into battle and being ready," he said.

Gareth Pugh fall/winter 15

Was it aggressive? Not according to Pugh. "Aggressive infers that it's a temporary state of mind," he pointed out. "Whereas this… this is how it is. Fierce 24/7." He wasn't talking about feminism, but he might as well have been. For a new generation of girl power fighting for a world where girl power shouldn't even be a thing, some ferocious 15th century feminism gets the message across a lot better than ye olde kumbaya. But, as Pugh noted, "It's about being part of a culture, being part of a dialogue."

The interesting thing about Joan of Arc - and Pugh's autumn/winter 15 woman as a result - is her saintly status as something of a sex symbol to men, who are turned on by the force she represents. Just look at that Milla Jovovich film, or any other female warrior in fiction, from Boudicca to Buffy and Xena. It's quite wrong of men, really, because the act of attraction basically undermines the warrior aspect by turning the woman into an object of desire rather than a person of power.

It was an issue echoed by Louise Bourgeois when, in 1991, she created Mamelles, her wall relief of female breast moulds. She was commenting on the egotistic sexual behavior of the kind of men we now know as players: socially accepted sexual predators, who move from one female body to another, not caring about the person inside. The work was the inspiration behind Simone Rocha's collection on this second day of London Fashion Week, and an appropriate reference for the designer, who has been dealing with female roles and role models since she first hit the fashion scene.

Applying the sculptural form of Mamelles to her polite signature dresses, Rocha's feminist statement wasn't aggressive but rather quite explicit. It was a kind of 'deal with it' collection, which encompassed a similar courageous, devil-may-care drive as Gareth Pugh's march for battle, but with the spotlight turned more towards female, sisterly fellowship than the altogether, co-ed kind.

Simone Rocha fall/winter 15

You could say the two different approaches had to do with the different sexes of the two designers. Bringing Sibling into the mix, who showed another girl-centric collection on Saturday, it's an interesting thought, for the fact that this designer trio is comprised of a two men and a woman. Theirs was a collection of sex bomb garments, much in the vein of Alexis Colby's wardrobe on Dynasty, but the autumn/winter 15 Sibling woman wasn't as self-confident as that, Cozette McCreery explained.

Who was it based on? "A bit of the girls we know? A bit of how I used to be… possibly?" she said, coyly. How so? "Very studious. Used to go the Café de Paris in a full Alaïa look, including a lot of makeup and about five inch heels, and then not talk to people. Because I'm actually incredibly shy, so I look at those girls on the catwalk and it does feel like they're wearing a kind of armor," she said. "Power-dressing for those that perhaps don't feel particularly powerful."

Sibling fall/winter 15

In that sense Sibling's statement went entirely hand-in-hand with Rocha's and Pugh's: a broad empowerment of women, and moreover, a dedication of one's platform to doing something more for women than simply dressing them. Between these three very different kinds of armor, the feminism of the early London shows was about female self-protection - the kind that takes no prisoners. Asked if Sibling was making a deliberate feminist statement, McCreery was quick to answer. "It could well be. Girl power!"

Catch up with the rest of our fall/winter 15 coverage here.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Catwalk photography Mitchell Sams
Backstage photography Piczo

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